Post-Modern Victorian: A. S. Byatt's Possession Essay

1436 Words Oct 1st, 1999 6 Pages
Post-Modern Victorian:

A. S. Byatt's Possession

If I had read A. S. Byatt's novel Possession without having had British Literature, a lot of the novel's meaning, analogies, and literary mystery would have been lost to me. The entire book seems one big reference back to something we've learned or read this May term. The first few lines of chapter one are poetry attributed to Randolph Henry Ash, which Byatt wrote herself. Already in those few lines I hear echoes of class, lines written in flowery Pre-Raphaelite tradition. "The serpent at its root, the fruit of gold /…At the old world's rim, /In the Hesperidean grove, the fruit /Glowed golden on eternal boughs, and there /The dragon Ladon crisped his jewelled (sic) crest…."
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According to Byatt, the "struggle of the individual to discover and then live out her own identity, an identity etched out only with enormous effort and determination" is a major theme running through many of her novels, especially this one. The title itself brings out the first questions of identity-Possession. Who possesses whom? Does he possess her, or does she possess him? Are they owning and possessing their literary history, or does it possess them?

Individual identity is lost in the way the book is written. Many times, the reader cannot tell one couple from the other-who is reading Ash's poetry, kissing, running away on a honeymoon of sorts, and making love? Is it Roland and Maud, or is she suddenly writing about Christabel and Ash again? Throughout the book, Byatt often makes these switches in characters between scenes without telling the reader. The effect is that the narrative is essentially no different for each couple living in different time periods. The same love story that defines Christabel and Ash in the 1860's also describes Roland and Maud in the 1980's.

In Victorian tradition, it was the man who "owned" the woman, his wife. Yet in this modern Victorian work, that becomes twisted. When Ash attempts to "claim" Christabel on page 308 by holding her and making love to her, the act of possession is

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